The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has suggested that religious “leaders” – priests, immams, rabbis, etc. – should be invited into schools to provide religious instruction.
I won’t go over the rights and wrongs of the NUT getting involved in this kind of thing or the role already played by religious “leaders” in schools because His Grace has already covered that off more than sufficiently.
However, I did want to put my own personal experience across as a confirmed atheist taught in an all-white rural school.
I was 17 by the time I actually spoke to an Asian. The town I lived in was exclusively white with the exception of a very pale half (or maybe less) caste family who lived there for a few years and a black family that lived a few doors away from where I grew up for about a year, maybe less. I lived a very white, very sheltered childhood.
I went to a C of E primary school and a secular secondary school. At primary school I got into trouble for not singing the hymns because I didn’t believe in God – I made my mind up early and firmly despite having a nominally religious family.
At secondary school I asked my parents repeatedly to take me out of religious education lessons because I wasn’t religious and saw no need to attend them. They refused and I’m glad they did because religious education is important. The morals and values that make our society work are rooted in the Christian heritage of England and even if you don’t believe in God, the way the bible tells you to live is generally the right way if you live in England. It is morally wrong, in our culture, to murder and steal. It is wrong to treat people badly or to be selfish. These and other Christian morals and values are integral to English culture and society.
I don’t think it’s wrong to teach children about other religions. I learnt enough about the major religions to recognise religious symbols and know what does and doesn’t cause mortal offence (although with some, just breathing is enough). But I do think it’s wrong to provide religious instruction for any religion in schools, whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other religion. Every child should receive the same type of religious education at school along the lines of “this is Christianity/Islam/Judaism and this is what Christians/Muslims/Jews believe”. They don’t need to be instructed in adherence of a particular religion in school – that sort of thing is up to the parents of the child to arrange outside of the school environment. In that respect I very much support the French approach of banning all religious sysmbols from schools.
The point I want to get across is that despite having no faith and growing up in an all-white environment, I haven’t turned into a xenophobic nazi. Yes, I have robust views on religion but it’s not because I believe that one religion is right and another is wrong. If I criticise Islam or the actions of a group of muslims then it’s because I think that what they’re doing is wrong, not because of their religion. If atheists or Christians went around blowing people up or sawing their heads off because they were from a particular religion or country then I’d be equally critical.
I was brought up with a sense of what is right and wrong and that sense of right and wrong was based on Christian morals and values. Teaching anything other than those basic Christian morals and values is unnecessary and unhelpful and prevents adherents of non-Christian religions from properly integrating with other children and, ultimately, into society.
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